In the Garden

Rick Barboza

'Olena is available at O'ahu Home Depots for about $6.00.

‘Olena (Hawaiian turmeric)

Latin name: Curcuma longa

This plant is highly valued in Hawaii and many other parts of the Pacific for its many uses. The underground stems (rhizomes) are used to treat ailments such as ear or respiratory infections, as well as to spice up food. The ground stems also provide a rich yellow dye used to color food and kapa.

This plant is also used to color and spice curry dishes.

The song "Pua 'Olena," made famous by the Lim family, honors the beautiful flower of the 'Olena plant.

Description: An herbaceous plant with dark green leaves measuring, up to 4 feet long, that rise out of dark yellow- to orange-fleshed rhizomes. Emerging from the center of the leaves is an erect inflorescence that resembles a large white flower. This "flower" is highly fragrant and easily distinguished from other members of the ginger family. Like many other ginger plants, 'olena is also deciduous, meaning that it loses its leaves for a few months every year.

Distribution: 'Olena is a Polynesian-introduced plant here in Hawaii and is found in areas that were once inhabited by early Hawaiians. Although uncommon today, this plant can sometimes be purchased at plant sales and Hawaiian functions.

Landscape uses and care: 'Olena does best in partially shaded or full sun areas in rich moist soil. Few pests are known to bother this plant. Plant it alongside other perennials because, as mentioned above, this plant loses its leaves for two to three months. Don't be discouraged by the sudden sparseness, 'olena is truly beautiful and prized Hawaiian plant.

Rick Barboza co-owns Hui Ku Maoli Ola, a native Hawaiian plant nursery, with Matt Schirman. Contact him at 259-6580 or e-mail

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --